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The other morning, I was taking breakfast at my new favorite diner here in Austin when I noticed something different about my order. There was an extra hotcake in the short stack. Now, being more than a tad on the hefty side, I never argue with an extra hotcake. You, of course, are svelte and would vehemently argue against the extra hotcake or even a few thimbles of additional soy pellets. Not me, buster.

(Side note: I was in Chicago, a very meaty town where even the pigeons look like wrestlers, when I heard a show on the local NPR affiliate about the importance of comfort foods in tragic times. Viewed from virtually any perspective, this seems like a bad idea. Americans, myself included, are chubbier than ever. And, in general, given all that goes to waste and waistlines, it just doesn’t make a great deal of sense to encourage folks to “eat your way through troubled times.” After all, what was that old Simon and Garfunkel song, “Chicken Fried Steak Sandwich Over Troubled Waters”?)

Anyway, I enjoyed my extra hotcake. When I went to the register to pay the Greek proprietress and head chef, I expected to see a little extra charge on my bill. But there wasn’t one.

She winked as I handed her the money. “You notice?” she said.

“Yes, and thanks,” I said.

“You’ll talk about it, yes?”


You have customers, yes? Why don’t you surprise them with an extra hotcake?

We call this idea “structured surprises.” It’s something that you build or structure into your way of doing business but is seen as a surprise by your customers. Amazon’s been doing it for years. For example, did you really think that the site upgrades your mode of delivery just because you’re witty and notice that Chicago pigeons waddle like little sumo wrestlers? (I thought so, at first, until a friend disabused me of this notion.)

In my opinion, it isn’t enough to merely deliver a good or service for a fair price and expect customers to adore you. You need to create opportunities and new sources of value for customers that will take them by surprise.

And email is the least expensive way of delivering the news.

Now, what kind of surprises are we talking about?

— Commission a white paper from Gartner, Forrester, Aberdeen Group, or META Group that will be made available to customers only.

— Arrange for an industry thought leader (or academic) to take questions over a couple of days via Web bulletin board or threaded discussion group.

— If you’re sponsoring an upcoming executive event, “comp” hotel and travel for a few of your customer champions. You want them there mingling with the crowd.

I’m sure you can think of examples more appropriate to your situation.

Enterprise software marketers, please take note. Everybody’s scrambling for those “lighthouse” accounts. You know, the Global 100-type folks? They make for good references and all.

So, let’s say that you’ve already landed one of those. Let’s be honest. You haven’t landed the whole company. You’ve landed a division or a subsidiary. And there are lots of other divisions and subsidiaries.

Leverage your existing relationship through the power of structured surprises. Create opportunities for the one division that is your customer and extend those opportunities, offers, and events to other divisions of the larger company.

This is smart marketing. On the one hand, you’re building customer loyalty in one division. And, on the other, you’re attempting to do what every business-to-business (B2B) marketer should do: leverage one success into several others.

I’m always baffled at how little attention is given by some otherwise bright companies to the kind of “account leveraging” that I just outlined. It is so much easier to get business where you already have business (using your success with one division to get the attention of another) than trying to attract business where you don’t.

Try these ideas, and soon you may be selling like hotcakes.

This Marketing article was written by Chris Maher on 3/18/2005